Predictable Identities: 15 – Newcomblike, Part I

This entry is part 15 of 27 in the series Predictable Identities

“Do you like money?”

You spin around to see a strange child. You could’ve sworn you were alone on this street just a second ago. “Everyone likes money, kid,” you reply, “but I’m not getting sucked into another MLM scheme.” 

“This isn’t MLM, it’s LDT!” The child presses an envelope into your hand. “Open it.”

You do, it contains several $100 bills. “What’s the trick?” you ask. “And what’s your name?”

“The name’s Newcomb, and the trick was hacking into your phone last month.” The child smiles. “I’ve studied your behavior, and made some predictions. Specifically, I predicted whether you will take the envelope or leave the bills on the ground and go straight home after you hear me speak. If I predicted you would do the latter, I deposited $1,000,000 into your bank account 5 minutes ago. If I predicted you’ll take the cash, I retweeted Trump from your Twitter handle. By the way, I’ve been playing this game for a while and never got a prediction wrong. Goodbye!”

You look down at the cash. “Wait, what if…” but as you look up, the child is gone like an expired snap.

Do you take the cash or leave it and go home? Or do you hate philosophical thought experiments? Alright, let’s talk about something completely different.

Your employer decides on bonuses in December, but the bonuses are only paid out (and found out) in March. If the company predicted that you would slack off in Q1, your bonus is small, and if they thought you’d hustle it’s generous. You planned to quit at the end of March anyway, how hard do you work until then?

A leasing agent says she has another application for your dream apartment, but she’ll let you rent it because she feels you’ll work extra hard to maintain the furnishings. Do you?

Series Navigation<< Predictable Identities: 14 – Frameworks are FakePredictable Identities: 16 – Newcomblike, Part II >>

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About Jacob Falkovich

Jacob is so proud of his blog,, that it's on his online dating profiles. He also tweets @yashkaf.


  1. Re: the child — clearly I should leave the money on the ground, because I might actually be part of a simulation designed to predict what the real me would do, and I want to ensure that the real me has a shot at the million dollars.

    • This is quite interesting. The argument you made, that if someone is predicting you they are probably simulating you and you can’t tell whether you’re *you* or the simulation, is exactly the intuition pump that convinced me and made Newcomb’s Problem “click” for me. After hearing that I intuitively see one-boxing as the obviously right thing to do. And yet for other people it’s a completely nonsensical argument, so obviously wrong that hearing it entrenches them further in two-boxing. I wonder what it means that some people find it so easy to accept that their most cherished possession, their own subjective experience, is not a special and unique thing but something that can be replicated by good enough simulators.

  2. 1) take the cash, this kid gotta be shitting me (also who cares about me tweeting Trump)

    2) mediocre work, as per usual.

    3) i actually do work extra hard to keep the furnishings, how’d she know?

  3. Deepthi Amarasuriya says

    I’m imagining the child to be the young Sheldon.

  4. IT Process Monkey says

    As an Aspie, I would definitely put down the money – despite the forecast of getting hornswoggled either way…
    In fact, I actually DID this, though to a slightly lesser scale, 30 +y ago, after discovering a fat bundle of $20’s during paper-route rounds on my bike. That said, I regretted turning it in to the condo manager once I got a look at the guy dragging his clearly-stoned-out lady friend through the parking lot looking for it (though he did unwrap a $20 and hand it to me as they took off.)

    I realize “There is no such thing as a free dog” – but even so, I suppose regret trading the remote possibility for a mere grand. :)

    As to your second query, I discovered a few years back that my work (a federal consulting firm) DOES, indeed, do this… and I go through the debate over it every year – especially given that I deliver, and won’t sell (except the reputation for being awesome – which impacts sales in general, of course..) I resent the firm, that’s true… however I tend to feel a genuine obligation to the client and value my own productivity… so I would (and do) still work my *ss off. Its a shame, really…

    I have found myself here quite by chance, – chasing a graphic, leading to a 12y old post on defining strategy vs. tactics that I found unusually worthy of contemplation, which then triggered my curiosity and I drilled down to the host site and found this.
    Sincerely, thank you for providing fodder for thought – allowing for this momentary break in monotony.


  5. It’s interesting, thank you for sharing.